Ah, the insanity of living in Nebraska

It’s that season again.

It’s time for storm watches and warnings.

It’s time to marvel at the strength of Mother Nature.

And to hate her unpredictability.

It doesn’t matter how old I get, I still get the same heart palpitations every time I hear about high winds, hail, tornadoes and the like.

The reason? I think I’ve been traumatized. I was tormented with years of living in a little trailer house on the open prairie where the only place to take shelter was in an underground cave. And now I’m tainted, scarred and no amount of therapy will ever make me normal again.

In my beginning years, the drama was the worst. Not only did we live in an aluminum can (in which even a soft rain could sound like baseballs hitting the roof), my parents hadn’t yet dug their own cave. The closest one was 1/4 mile away at the grandparents’ place — which meant a horrifying drive in the middle of the night to a destination even scarier.

We’d run through the rain and wind to the van, hunker down while the folks drove madly in the hail, jump out into more rain and wind and run for the open door to Grandpa Andy’s cave. There, he’d yell that tornadoes were coming (even if there wasn’t a definite threat) and Grandma Onie would loudly proclaim that we were all going to die.

Ah, yes, beautiful memories.

Once inside the tiny entry building, we’d be led down rickety, uneven stairs into a dark hole. The only light would come from my dad’s flashlight . . . as Andy and Onie would start arguing about how to ignite the old kerosene lantern which had been down there for probably 50 years. At least the fighting gave them something to do, while we huddled next to the potato pile and rows of jars holding Onie’s canned vegetables.

Once they grew tired of fighting about the lantern (which rarely worked), Onie would question whether Andy properly fastened the lock to the door (in case a tornado would sit directly over the cave and suck the door out of the 50-foot hole). To prove his point, he’d shove the hook further down . . . which would make my dad worry it would get stuck and we’d all be trapped in that godforsaken pit (at a time without cell phones).

For some reason, Grandpa always held an axe across his lap, while we sat in the dark hole. To this day, I do not know the purpose. Grandma would yell at him about the water dripping through the dirt walls as it was all his fault, and he’d tap the axe with his arthritic fingers while he responded how she had “bigger things to worry about.”

Meanwhile, the wind would whistle through the single air pipe which allowed oxygen to flow underground. In order to distract us kids from the verbal assaults, horrifying winds and threat of death, Mom would encourage us to pluck sprouts from the potatoes, which led to dirty pajamas.

Ah, nice, sweet summer nights.

Once the drama was over, Dad would have to use a hammer to unlock the door (for obvious reasons) and we’d crawl up the dirty steps to see what was left of the world around us. Fortunately, nothing really terrible ever happened . . . with the exception of psychological damage.

After a couple of summers in which the storms were quite frequent and due to the birth of more children, Mom advised Dad we would no longer be sharing shelter space with the old folks. She said she couldn’t take another night in the hole with them screaming at each other and Onie telling us kids we could expect to die at any minute.

“It’s not good for anybody,” she said. “Sometimes I think there’s less risk staying in the trailer house.”

So Dad called in some help and a deep hole was dug in our yard. They framed the underground room and covered it with cement and dirt. A little outside structure covered the staircase leading inside.

It was new, so gone was the worry about the spiders, snakes, mice and other creepers — at least in the first year. The best part was that it was only about 20 feet from our house, which lightened the load while running in the elements. But it was still dark, damp, dingy and dusty. It soon became filled with another darn pile of potatoes which had to be de-sprouted and there was never enough light.

We were told to be excited about our deluxe cave, as if it was state-of-the-art or something. I just wanted to live in a house with an actual basement that was warm, maybe had carpet or a rug perhaps, with lights . . . oh, and I dreamed of a television set that could help us get through scary nights.

Despite the new cave’s shortfalls, we had a couple of quiet summers. No longer was there any fighting or predictions of doom, as we no longer had to use Andy and Onie’s facilities. When a storm came, each of us grabbed a kid (there were plenty to go around), ran across the yard to the cave entrance, quietly settled in — then my parents decided how tight to lock the door and Mom sang songs we could actually hear because of the lack of bickering.

That was until Andy determined his cave was becoming obsolete. It wasn’t long before the green Dodge would pull up in the middle of the night and the couple would join us in our dungeon. The old couple hit re-play on their dramatic production — but at least we didn’t have an axe in our hole in the ground.

Ah, good family fun.

Today, I live with a man who absolutely loves to look at the mysteries in the sky and I am surrounded by people who don’t appear to have panic attacks when the wind blows.

And there’s still me . . . the scared one who just wants to be on a planet where meteorologists aren’t necessary, no one ever has to go into a cellar or the scary crawl space in the basement, and no one fights about the various ways we will meet our demise.

Ah, the insanity that comes with living in Nebraska.


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